Blackthorne Brothers Prequel
(A Healing Springs Romance Series)
Declan Blackthorne stared at his computer screen. Any second now, each of his estranged brothers would appear on screen, and it was his own damn fault.
Making arrangements over email and text wasn’t working. A phone call would be a jumbled mess. So he had proposed a video conference, figuring it was the easiest way to get them all on the same page while they were scattered in various corners of the world.
Miss Molly—their aunt and practically a second mother to them when they were growing up—had sent each of them a letter, imploring them to return to Healing Springs. Apparently their father had disappeared without a trace, and the police weren’t taking his absence as seriously as Miss Molly thought they should.
The screen lit up with an incoming call, so Declan clicked on the notification and grumbled a hello to his oldest brother, Zander.
“Where are the others? I only have a few minutes.” Zander glared into the camera, not bothering with pleasantries.
Before Declan could respond, Kaden buzzed in. Blaze tuned in a moment later, just as Declan started typing out a text to him.
“We’re really doing this?” Kaden questioned, pushing his Hollywood hair away from his forehead.
“What choice do we have?” Declan asked. “Our father is missing. We can’t sit back and pretend he doesn’t exist.”
“It’s worked for the past eight years,” Zander mumbled.
“Well it’s not working now. He needs us.”
“We needed him,” Kaden spoke with disdain, as if Declan could have forgotten how they had been forced off the farm. Out of their home. “He didn’t exactly fight for us.”
“We were grown.” Why Declan felt the need to defend his father was beyond him. Being cast out of the family home at nineteen, having to find places to stay during school breaks, and having to dodge questions about his family hadn’t been a picnic.
“And he’s a grown ass man now,” Kaden replied.
“He’ll be back,” Zander said with authority. “Probably on a bender.”
“Do we know if he’s been drinking?” Declan knew the answer to the question he posed. Of course they didn’t know. They wouldn’t have known their father still lived if not for Miss Molly’s twice-a-year updates.
“Probably needed to escape StepWitch.” Kaden shivered dramatically. “That woman still gives me the chills.”
“Valid point,” Declan conceded. “But still. Can you imagine Dad waking up one day and deciding to walk away from the farm? He loves that farm more than anything.”
“Including us,” Kaden spat. His eyes narrowed as he stared into the webcam, challenging any of the brothers to dispute his claim. When no one did, he resumed his usual nonchalance.
Declan needed to work another angle. He had already made up his mind that he’d return to the farm to find his father, but he needed the support of his brothers. He didn’t want to do it alone.
“Zander, come on. You’re a doctor. You took an oath. He could have a medical issue. He could need a professional assessment.”
Zander groaned and shook his head. “They have doctors in Healing Springs.”
“But none as committed as you,” Declan responded. “Blaze, if he’s in trouble he might need some muscle to get him out of it.”
Blaze continued to stare ominously into the camera, looking creepy even for him. He wasn’t one to speak much, and Declan had grown to accept that early on. Declan didn’t relate to the lone wolf thing, but Blaze was as loyal as an alpha wolf, so Declan and the other brothers didn’t take offense at Blaze’s lack of interest in conversation.
“And Kaden, we need your creative thinking abilities to help us figure out where he could have wandered off to or what trouble he may have found himself in.”
Kaden grimaced but released a stream of air. Declan had him. He could see the doubt lifting from each of their furrowed sets of eyebrows. Could see them submit to his pleas.
Declan added a little weight to his side of the proverbial scale.
“Remember when we were young and we took that oath? The Blackthorne Brotherhood? We’d always be ready to serve if one of us needed something? Zander and Blaze, it was your idea. You made all of us promise that we’d put our family ahead of all else. I’m invoking that oath. Our father needs us. I need you. We have to go.”
“Fine.” Zander spoke first. “I’ll put in a request for temporary leave. I won’t be able to stay long.”
“Great, that’s perfect.” Declan’s heart raced in his chest, and he relaxed his shoulders. “Blaze?”
Blaze nodded in agreement and left the call with no further discussion.
“All right… now it’s just you, Kaden.”
“You guys are trying to ruin my life, aren’t you?” Kaden released a stream of air, sending a loud gust through the microphone. “Fine. Whatever. I’ll tell my agent that I have a family crisis. But I can’t stay forever.”
“None of us want to stay forever,” Zander retorted.
Satisfied that he had managed to get them all on board, Declan wrapped up the meeting and disconnected.
His heart had once belonged to the Blackthorne Family Dairy Farm, and being forced away by his mother’s death and his father’s hasty remarriage had created a cavern in his heart that he had never managed to fill.
Going back would be painful.
But leaving his current situation might be exactly what he needed.
“If you seriously walk away from your career, I’ll never take you back.”
Declan stared at Sherri and struggled to maintain his cool. Her nostrils flared, and her eyes turned wild as he remained silent.
“Call them back, Dec. Tell them you reconsidered.”
He turned back toward his open suitcase and tossed more clothes in. He wouldn’t need the suits that hung in the closet or the overpriced ties Sherri had loved to buy. The shiny shoes wouldn’t hold up to farming conditions, either.
He had no problem leaving them all behind.
“Declan, you’re not even listening to me.”
“I’m done listening to you, Sherri. I’m done talking to you. We’re done. We’ve been done. It’s time to move on.”
Her eyes filled with tears. They weren’t real. None of this was real.
“This isn’t you, Declan baby. You’re sweet. And kind. I don’t know what you’re going through, but I want to help you get the old you back.”
He bit the inside of his cheek and held back the things he wanted to say.
Sherri had worked hard to make Declan the good provider he had become. She had invested a great deal of time into polishing him and making him presentable enough to work at her father’s accounting firm. He had spent too much time going along with what she wanted, convincing himself that he wanted it, too.
Her voice held no hint of tearfulness while he zipped his suitcase. Miraculous recovery.
“I did everything for you, Declan. You were nothing before me. My father didn’t want to take a risk giving you that internship but he did because of me. Declan! You can’t leave like this. Your family isn’t even your family anymore—they don’t need you like I need you.”
Declan paused at the door to the condo she had refused to leave. The condo he had bought. The condo he had assumed he’d stay in until he figured out what to do with his life.
“Sherri, we broke up a month ago.”
“But I don’t want to break up. You’re not thinking of me at all!”
To her credit, this time she managed to gather enough tears to create a waterfall effect over her cheeks.
“I’ve been thinking of you since we met. I was thinking of you when I took an internship I didn’t want. I was thinking of you when I dressed up in those damned suits every day. I was thinking of you when I became an accountant rather than a farm owner. I was thinking of you when I let you stay here after we broke up, relegating me to the uncomfortable sofa that you just had to have. And now I’m thinking of you when I tell you that I don’t believe we ever loved each other and it’s time for both of us to move on and find the lives we are meant to lead.”
“You don’t mean that. You don’t mean any of that!”
“I mean all of it.” Declan slipped his sunglasses on and opened the door. He paused before fully crossing the threshold. “But you know what, Sherri? I’ll be fair to you. You can stay here forever—the condo is all yours. This is the life you wanted—you just need to find another man to fit into the shoes you so desperately wanted me to wear.”
Before she could reply, he closed the door on the life he hadn’t wanted.
Zander rolled off his mattress and reached for his pants. He hadn’t expected Selena to crawl into his bed in the wee hours prior to his departure, but he hadn’t exactly pushed her out, either.
She drew circles on his back as he plunged a leg into his pants.
“Once more before you go?”
Her sultry voice and her bold invitation might have tempted him, but they’d already been messing around for several weeks, which was more time than he liked to devote to one woman. In some ways, having to leave Nepal to head back to the States might have been his saving grace.
“I have to leave now to make my flight.”
She planted kisses down his spine. He stood up to pull his pants over his hips.
“You’ve never talked about your family before…”
He didn’t respond. They weren’t friends. They used each other to meet their physical needs. Family talk wouldn’t have occurred to him.
Besides, aside from some random texts here and there, he hadn’t stayed connected to any of his family. The idea of reuniting with them after the protracted absence gave him palpitations. He had never planned to return to Healing Springs. Too many ghosts lingered there. None of which he wanted to mingle with.
“Zander, I’d like to pick up where we’re leaving off when you get back.”
Zander shook his head and dug through his trunk for a new shirt, since she had confiscated the one he had last worn. Selena was an intelligent woman, a gifted doctor, and sexy as all hell.
But he didn’t do relationships.
“Don’t shake your head—it’s a great idea. We’re pretty good together.”
“You’re wonderful, but I don’t do that.”
“I know it’s too soon, but imagine what our kids could offer this world? With my talents and yours…not to mention our great looks?”
Her teasing had him clenching his jaw and wanting to bolt.
“I’m not having kids.”
“You say that now, but I can convince you otherwise…”
She ran her hand over her shapely thighs before opening her legs to offer what he had previously enjoyed.
He had led her on long enough. Had he known she was growing attached, he would have ended their affair sooner.
“I won’t be changing my mind. About kids or about picking up where we’re leaving off. When I return, we go back to being colleagues.”
Kids were a complication he didn’t need or want. He didn’t have time or patience, nor the desire to share his life with dependents. He wasn’t a family man and had thought he had made that clear to everyone in his professional and personal life. He had no desire to leave his position in Nepal—unless it was to move on to another disaster area where his skills could be put to good use.
That was no life for a child, even if the idea of procreating didn’t make his skin crawl.
He wanted to save lives, not create them.
He grabbed the bag he had already packed and tossed it over his shoulder. Pausing at the door of his tent, he took one last look at Serena as she positioned her body to flaunt her best physical assets.
“You’re really not coming back to me, are you?” Serena’s voice held no self-pity.
He shook his head. “I’ll be back. But not to you.”
She pulled the blanket over her legs and plastered a friendly-but-professional expression on her face.
“I’ll always keep a part of you with me,” she vowed.
He fought the urge to roll his eyes. She deserved better than that. She wasn’t the first woman to wax poetic and to think she had feelings for him.
He’d have to be more clear in the future.
And stick to his one-night rule.
She waited for his response. He didn’t have time for dramatics. Not even the low-key kind.
Trying to cushion the weight of his rejection, he stepped out of the tent and, as he dropped the flap, told her she could keep his shirt.
“Keep up that level of commitment and the sponsors will offer you triple.”
Blaze nodded while swiping a towel across his forehead. His coach had been unusually jovial since delivering the good news about the attainment of a high-level sponsor. Blaze had trained long and hard for this.
Coach Johnson slapped him on the back. “Keep up with your training exercises while you’re away. I imagine you’ll be able to find plenty of ways to work your body on a farm.”
Blaze nodded once again. The fire that burned in his body wouldn’t allow him to stop. The need to work his muscles was too strong to take a break.
Blaze started for the showers.
Blaze stopped mid-stride, turning back to his coach—the one person he felt closest to. The one man who understood that Blaze wasn’t great at communication, but that he would work harder than most and never give up.
The one man who had been willing to take a chance on a street fighter and put the work in to shape him up so he could fight outside of an illegal cage.
The one man who believed in Blaze. Hell, Blaze didn’t even believe in Blaze as much as Coach Johnson did.
“Is Chad still giving you shit about leaving?”
“Yes, sir.” Blaze had gone toe-to-toe with his manager about his need to go to New Hampshire to address a family crisis. Chad had cautioned that taking time away at this stage of his career could be detrimental.
But what choice did he have?
“I told him to lay off you. These sorts of things are never easy, and I know you didn’t want to take time away from here. But listen good, Blaze. Family is important. Take the time you need. I’ll let your sponsors know you remain as committed as ever and that nothing will keep you from your upcoming fights.”
“Thank you, sir. I’ll be back soon. You have my word.”
Whatever that was worth.
Coach Johnson nodded curtly. “Get in the shower before I drive you to the airport. Don’t want your stinky ass smelling up my car.”
In the drop-off lane at the airport, Blaze and Coach Johnson exchanged a handshake after Blaze pulled his bag from the trunk of the car. His tension built as he strolled toward his terminal. He had done his best to avoid thinking about returning home. The realization that he’d be seeing his brothers for the first time since they had all fled Healing Springs created a web of anxiety inside. Walking through the front door of a home that had stopped being theirs the moment their mother had died would be closer to torture than any beating he had endured on the streets.
And if they couldn’t find their father? The man they had deserted when he made a choice they hadn’t approved of?
Blaze refused to consider that possibility.
Something had happened to his father. Though Zander remained convinced that their father had gone off on a bender, Blaze’s gut told him something more nefarious had happened.
And no matter how repellent the idea of returning to Healing Springs was, Blaze would stop at nothing to find his father and return him to the family homestead.
Hailey’s tongue—or was it Kailey?—tasted as sweet as the whipped cream they had just finished playing with. Kaden hadn’t planned on bringing anyone home with him from the club, but after a few drinks and her hot little body sliding up to his in his limo, how could he refuse what she so freely offered?
Annabelle, his agent, chastised him through the phone. He nibbled on Hailey/Kailey’s lip as he bit back a smile at the nagging sound of Annabelle’s irritation.
“Now is not the time to flake out on me, Kaden.”
“I won’t flake. Promise.”
“I can hear you kissing someone while we’re talking. Can you stop being a manwhore long enough to have a business conversation? Jesus, Kaden.”
“Okay, okay—you’ve got my full attention.”
Hailey—he was sure that’s what she introduced herself as—slid down his bare body, kissing his chest and circling her tongue around his nipples.
“Listen to me clearly, Kaden. You are the top choice as lead actor for this new project, and it’ll be huge. It’ll break you out of the action hero mold you’ve been so desperate to escape and will diversify your portfolio. But Clarissa Beaufont is the headliner, and you can’t do anything to screw this up. She’s extremely particular about who she’ll work with.”
“You know I want it badly, Annabelle. I won’t fuck up.”
“Everyone who reads the gossip blogs knows you’re a playboy, but if you do anything to garner undue negative attention or to tarnish the good boy image you’ve cultivated, she’ll refuse to work with you. Hear me?”
Hailey cupped his balls in her warm hands, massaging gently as her tongue plunged into his ear.
He needed to get off the phone.
Annabelle wouldn’t want to overhear what was about to transpire.
“I’ll be as good as always. You have my word.”
“You’d better. She won’t work with anyone with questionable morals. She’s already making an exception for your, uh, sexual abundance, but that’s only because she’s a fan of your work and she acknowledges that men have certain needs. But if you do anything—”
“Have I ever let you down?”
Hailey gazed up at him through heavy lashes and smoldering eyes. Last night’s makeup managed to make her more alluring as her tongue lapped the skin over his abs…and lower.
“I’ve gotta go. Call you when I land in NH.”
He tossed the phone across the room as Hailey fell to her knees and took him deeply into her mouth. Though his driver waited to take him to the airport, he accepted the going away gift Hailey so generously offered.
The star treatment she gave did a bang-up job of helping him to avoid all thoughts of returning to his hometown and slipping back into his old skin.
If he had any luck at all, his father will have reappeared before Kaden’s plane could land, and then he could turn right around and head back to Hollywood where the skin he wore felt more comfortable and familiar.
But as he boarded the plane without the distractions Hailey so kindly provided, Kaden was forced to confront the sickening knot of fear twisting in his gut.
What if they were too late?
To dive into the series, please start with Declan.
The Blackthorne Brothers series will launch on November 13, 2017.
Be sure to visit my website for more adventures in Healing Springs. 🙂